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Race Directors Report for the Rab Lakes Sky Ultra 2022

Charlie's write up from the weekend of technical and extreme sky racing in the English Lake District. The Rab Lakes Sky Ultra is an ultra distance pure mountain race for those who possess the best skill and love skyrunning long. Full of technical ascents and descents, scrambling terrain, ridge-lines, jaw dropping views and one hell of a cracking course. Enter if you feel ready.

in Race News / Skyrunning

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Pre Race:

With bluebird skies, wall to wall sunshine and high temps forecast for the weekend, we knew it was going to be a cracker of an event, if not a little hot.

Runners from all over the country and some flown in from Europe, collected in the little sleepy village of Patterdale at the local King George Playing fields, home to the local cricket club and community events.

Friday afternoon into evening saw windy and rainy skies, marshals were out marking the courses and some were getting blown around in the process. This for us, as an events team, is always the stressful job. Getting the course marking right for all weather is highly important to us, as sky racing is delivered on an even playing field, so to speak. Its not about navigation, its about pure running, movement across technical terrain, efficiency in the movement cycle over navigation and that area of skill. Of course the competitors need to be able to navigate off the hill if they experience an issue, this is part of the race rules, but the racing is set by flags and arrows and we put around 4000 flags and 200 yellow/black arrow signs out in the mountains to keep sky racers on track.

Solo Skyracer on the col between Lower Man and Helvellyn ©Route North

Race Day:

Saturday morning and we woke to clear skies and warm temps, even at 05:45, when registration re-opened from the previous night.

Racers got themselves ready, pre-ran around the events field and psyched themselves for a hot and long day in the fells. Marshals deployed to mountain check-points, our safety team made final checks on the technical sections and our course provers made sure the previous nights wind hadn't dislodged too many of the course markings, making sure the route is obvious to follow.

During the day, on Saturday, there would be 4 big races happening in the Lake District, our course crosses with one of them, being the Lakeland Trails. Its very important for us and the Lakeland Trails that our runner do not end up on each others courses and as the day developed we realised there was an issue in Ambleside, where the courses clash. I would like to apologise to any of our skyrunners on the Rab Lakes Sky Ultra, who found it confusing around the Ambleside CP, the issue we had was fixed, but there was still confusion in that area and we will make sure its not the case for 2023.

As the race moved from the central fells to the eastern fells, we knew runners would be suffering, as dropping into Haweswater delivers the final beast of a climb back out to almost summit High Street, topping out at Long Stile Edge. Runners were strongly advised to take stock of themselves before making the descent of Nan Bield Pass, Small Water and eventually Haweswater, as its a long long climb back out through shoulder high bracken and high high temps that this valley seems to hold.

Runners and safety team members made difficult decisions and all felt the right choices were made as they either pushed on or decided to pull from the race at that point.

All racers, who had continued from Kirkstone Pass, were back in to the events centre before the course closure of 20:30 and the event safety team were happy everyone was in good health, off the mountains and safe.

Lsu 2022 Map V3 Final
Anti-clockwise direction ©Harvey Maps

Course reversal:

For 2021, we ran the new and finalised course in a clockwise direction, as this is the way it has been raced, even when the events centre was in Ambleside.

However for 2022, we decided to reverse the course and this is all due to the experience of crossing the Edges of Helvellyn, one of the main highlights of the course.

In 2021, the sky racers experienced a high volume of tourists and other mountain users on the 'Edges' and unlike our European cousins, we do not celebrate these type of races in the same way. In Europe, the tourists and locals would line these technical sections and cheer like crazy, enjoying the sportsmanship of each racer and individual, however here we see it as just a runner crossing the ridge, unless you know someone in the race.

We did not feel this was ideal for either the pleasure time mountain users or the racers alike and so the idea to get the skyracers across Swirral and Striding Edges when there were few folk around, was the whole reason we shifted the courses direction of travel.

We are very pleased to say that this worked a treat. All competitors were very happy to run this section with minimal interruption, being able to enjoy the main technical sections without the need to avoid other mountain users. It also allowed the budding mountaineers, later in the day, to enjoy their excursion without the fear a runner from the Rab Lakes Sky Ultra making them feel unduly nervous.

The race will be staying this direction for the rest of its delivery.

Racers also commented on how the course felt harder, but many said they really did not know as the temps were hot and there are so many variables to think about, however we know the ascents are now hot and long and the descents more short and sharp, adding to smashing the quads. The climb up Rough Crag onto Longstile Edge is a beast at the end of the race and with 57km +3700m of ascent in the course, we know either way you run it, its going to be a tough mission on the day.

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Hot hot conditions in the valleys ©Route North

Race Food:

Another addition to the Rab Lakes Sky Ultra for this year was the step up of the check-point food in Ambleside.

For many years I have become tired of the bad quality of checkpoint offerings at many races throughout the UK, masquerading as food.

It is about time we made that change and this year was the start of it. Ordinarily many race organisation deal out sweets, sweet junk food, more sweet junk food, cordial with excitotoxins laced into the mix and all manner of general rubbish that we pretend is food.

For years we have toyed with the idea of having local meats, cheeses, good quality cakes and produce and this year we made the move towards that idea. Meats, cheeses, locally made spicy lentil soup from FellBites, Wilfs cakes, quality produce, vegan selections and fruit were available at the Ambleside checkpoint and for 2023 we will be looking to grow this element to include not only the Kirkstone Pass CP, but Haweswater CP as well. So you can be happy to see there will be similar, but not the same, high quality healthy offering at all our checkpoints on all our races, whether it is for carnivores, vegetarians or vegans.

You can also expect this element to happen at the race finishes and we'll be updating you on this throughout the year.

After all, we are all running and training to stay fit and healthy and there is nothing worse than when you take from a checkpoint or finish food stall, to find out there is really only junk available to replenish our tired bodies with.

On top of the checkpoint food, we had found out days before the recent Rab Scafell Sky Race, that there was no cider. The production of the cider was kept going throughout the last couple of years on a tick over basis, but we did not have the facility or capability to bottle it into the medals of years gone by. Last year we gave a pint out as a liquid medal on the finish line, as we really do not like waste at all. The bottles in the past were great as they are directly recyclable or can be used as a momento if you have the desire. A participant in a previous race, made one of his bottles with the specific race logo on it, into a lamp with green liquid in. Our code that we try to stick to is "do not produce it in the first place and then it doesn't need to be recycled".

It might seem not worthwhile to some people, but even the idea of making and producing a race medal, that will ultimately find its way into recycling or landfill, doesn't really resonate with me and whilst I know a medal bottle and label have energetic and waste production problems, it seemed like an acceptable production as it was cider made by my own families efforts in our local area, by apples picked by us in Cumbria.

So, when we couldn't fix the issue of the cider medals for Scafell Sky Race, we did think about it for the Pinnacle Ridge Extreme. We however found ourselves over run between the 2 race weekends and little time to sort this. Enter stage right; Local cafe, Chintsy's in Keswick, stepped up to the challenge and produced us the best edible medals they could in the time frame we had given them. They work well as a dunker in a cup of tea or coffee, as we know they aren't the sweetest biscuits and if you decide to keep it, then varnish it. When you have had enough of it, dump it in the compost bin and it will become garden soil at some point.

We'll be working on a better solution for the 2023 events, inline with the above ethos.

Holly Wooten on her way to win the Rab Lakes Sky Ultra ©Route North

Race Winners:

Returning Female Champion, Holly Wootten, who has recently moved to the Lakes with her partner, took the win to complete the new course in a time of 09:11:52, which will now stand as the new course record.

The previous record was set back in 2016 by Sarah Ridgeway, but this was when the Lakes Sky Ultra was a more extreme race, having Pinnacle Ridge as one of its main technical sections. Without this technicality and the change of the course over the years, we feel it is time to re-set the record and encourage other female runners to come and take on the challenge and bar height Holly has now set.

Her previous time from 2021 was 09:58:02, showing a great improvement from then.

Brian Sharp, a Rab sponsored athlete, took the win in the mens race, completing the course in a cracking time of 08:04:56, not quite running at the same pace Simon Roberts did in 2021, however again the course is now new and so we will roll the anti-clockwise record to Brian and this will encourage other male skyracers to come and take on the challenge set, looking to better that time.

This was a new race for Brian and great to see him perform over the course. With a recent high placement, of 6th position, in the Rab Scafell Sky Race, Brian is showing excellent form this year.

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Brian Sharp pushing hard still mid race ©Route North

Moving on to 2023:

So with the race behind us, we must look forward to 2023, where we will be delivering the 8th edition of the Rab Lakes Sky Ultra.

We have been keeping our heads low since 2020, the year that changed the world in many respects. It has been a tough ride to keep things going, but with the support of our sponsors, Rab and the Climbers Shop, plus our event partners, Leki UK, Voom Nutrition and Mountain Fuel UK, we have managed to keep everything moving forwards.

This year was about solidifying the Rab LSU back to its original status, as one of the most extreme mountain ultras in the Lakes, and it still holds this accolade as far as we are concerned.

2023 is all about growth and pushing the event forwards to attract more racers to the field of skyrunning and racing.

You can expect to see some more events over the same combined, Lakes Sky Ultra/Pinnacle Ridge Extreme, weekend with focus on routes that will help encourage runners who are new to this discipline, alongside a pure uphill race and low level trails. Of course, a kids/family race will be implemented to bring the really young into this arena with something to inspire them for future years.

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Skyrunners flying up the valley of Glenridding in European conditions ©Route North

Big Thanks:

I would also like to take this opportunity to say a massive thanks to our overall race sponsors; Rab UK, our supporting sponsors; The Climbers Shop, our event partners; Voom Nutrition, Mountain Fuel, Leki UK, Dalemain Estates and the John Muir Trust.

I would also like to thank all other land owners and stakeholders for allowing us to delivery these highly technical and extreme races in our home area.

A massive thanks of course goes out to our awesome marshals team, our mountain professional safety team and all the competitors for supporting our races and making them what they are.

We can plan all the races we want to, but they would never happen with out volunteer marshals giving up their weekend to make delivery possible and of course all the competitors who have the confidence we are able to deliver some of the best organised and supported races in the country of their type.

Wrap Up:

That wraps up my race report, so all there is left for me to say is:

Enjoy your summer of running, remember to look out for entries opening on the 1st of October.

The race date for the Rab Lakes Sky Ultra will be in July 2023, we have a few loose ends to tie up before we announce the actual weekend, look out for more news very soon.

Yours in Skyrunning,

Charlie and Team LDST Ltd

Tess Elias on her way to 2nd place coming out of Haweswater ©Route North
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